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Mobile innovation: not just for Apple and Google

By Evan Wade / August 26, 2013

Smart devices and innovative design go hand in hand. From the very first iPhone to today’s multi-core, 4G-capable, pocket-sized supercomputers, being the first to do anything worthwhile is the key to success in the mobile arena. Taking a killer idea from concept to completion can require some serious resources, however.

Small-time developers don’t always have the funds and technology needed to make their own products come to life, and that’s where mobile giants like AT&T, Verizon and Samsung come in. The result? Innovation centers, which act as incubators for potentially awesome additions to the smart devices we know and love. The increasingly popular concept could prove to be a great solution for those unable to secure resources on their own.

Invest, innovate, implement

Remember AltaVista? The now-defunct search engine had a chance to buy Google’s early technology, PageRank, according to David A. Vise’s book, The Google Story. They passed, of course, and the rest is history. It’s an interesting tidbit with a built-in cautionary tale, and a potentially horrifying one if your company’s the one writing the checks.

Innovation centers exist, among other purposes, to stop that kind of nightmare scenario from happening again. Developers get the opportunity to persuade a company to write a fat check towards their technology, and financiers get a deeper look into an up-start’s potential. This sort of symbiotic relationship has been around since the dawn of Internet tech — a so-called “angel investor” helped Google get to where it is after AltaVista passed — but until recently, the growth of innovative design hasn’t been a top priority for investors.

What’s in it for developers?

When it comes to mobile tech, cash is just one of several resources a developer may need in bringing his product to the market. Space can be every bit as important as money, along with hardware, proper facilities and even advice from industry professionals. Samsung’s Accelerator program offers its members everything from cash and computers to mentoring.

A Los Angeles Times article notes that Samsung’s innovation centers come with specific focuses: their Mountain View, California facility offers assistance to developers with mobile apps in mind, while their Menlo Park facility is designed for hardware engineers.

Cellular providers like AT&T and Verizon offer similar amenities. Successful applicants work with the people who bring us our mobile data fix and get direct access to some of their technologies. Developers working with Verizon can test how their app handles switching between 3G and 4G by using a tunnel that features one form of data access on one side and another on the other.

In just two years, Verizon’s Massachusetts-based think tank has pumped out more than 30 products, ranging from a tricked-out Trek bike to wireless update capabilities in select Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The aforementioned bike is connected to the web through a camera, battery pack, biometric sensors and a Fujitsu clamshell PC, bringing a whole new meaning to mobility.

AT&T’s Foundries in Palo Alto and Plano can additionally help developers create software for home-based technology like U-verse and Digital Life, their home automation service, but they’re certainly not afraid to experiment with executions that go beyond your doorstep.

“Imagine ‘smart’ luggage and pet carriers that let you track those items from doorway to tarmac, anywhere in the world, or sealed shipping containers with sensors that detect moisture, or item-level inventory tracking that ensures the shelves at your favorite store are never empty, because the retailer knows exactly when to reorder and restock. These are just a couple of examples of what you might see coming out of Plano in the near future,” said Abhi Ingle, VP of Ecosystem and Innovation, AT&T.

For devs with an innovative design on a unique technology, be it hardware or software, it’s never been a better time to be in need of resources.

The future

Whatever comes of the innovation center concept, it’ll certainly be interesting to see the results. Wireless carriers, with their huge cash pools and other resources, offer a particularly enticing setup for devs in need of help. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with Samsung or another big-name hardware maker doesn’t hurt either. If you’re a developer with innovative design on your mind, an innovation center may be your key to future success. If not, get ready to reap the benefits of an invested future all the same — someone has to use all the cool new technology that comes out of programs like these.